Somatic mutations of ASXL1 gene have been described in patients with myeloid malignancies and were associated with inferior outcomes. ASXL1 mutations have also been detected in myeloid blast crisis of chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) patients. The mechanisms of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) transformation and functional role of ASXL1 mutations in the leukemogenesis remain to be determined. Recently, we identified PHD domain deletion mutations (R693X and L885X) in patients with CML in myeloid blast crisis and/or AML with minimal differentiation (M0). In the present study, we aimed to investigate the role of PHD domain deletion mutations in the pathogenesis of AML transformation. The K562 cells carrying Philadelphia chromosome, serves as a model to study the molecular mechanisms associated with leukemogenesis. Our result showed that R693X/L885X mutations inhibited PMA-treated megakaryocytic differentiation with the change of physiological characteristic features and suppressed the induction of CD61, a specific cell surface marker of megakaryocytes. We also found that FOSB, a member of Fos family of AP-1 transcription factors was down-regulated in K562 cells expressing R693X and L885X compared to wild-type ASXL1 during PMA-mediated megakaryocytic differentiation. Examination of intracellular signaling pathways showed that the mutant ASXL1 protein prevented PMA-induced megakaryocytic differentiation through the inactivation of ERK, AKT and STAT5 which are required for differentiation. Further, ASXL1 depletion by shRNA in K562 cells led to enhanced cell proliferation, increased colony formation and impaired PMA-mediated differentiation. Previous studies in Drosophila had revealed that Asxl forms the protein complexes of both Trithorax and Polycomb groups that are required for maintaining chromatin in both activated and repressed transcriptional states. By using Western blot analysis, we demonstrated that PHD domain deletion mutations of ASXL1 significantly suppressed the transcriptionally repressive mark H3K27 trimethylation, however no effect on methylated H3K4 (H3K4me2 and H3K4me3), an active histone mark in K562 cells. Co-immunoprecipitation analysis revealed that wild-type, but not PHD domain deletion mutations of ASXL1 interact with EZH2, a member of the polycomb repressive complex 2 (PRC2). Importantly, PHD deletion mutations or downregulation of ASXL1 resulted in the suppression of EZH2 in K562 cells. Our study demonstrated that PHD deletion mutations of ASXL1 resulted in a loss-of-function which exhibited direct effects on the proliferation and differentiation and also proposed a specific role for ASXL1 in epigenetic regulation of gene expression in K562 cells.
No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.
Supported by grants BMRPG380031, DOH100-TD-C-111–006 and MM-E-99009.
Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.